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The Grand Canal series

The Grand Canal series—made up of 12 views of the same size and two festivals on larger canvases (on display at the start of the exhibition)—was one of the principal commissions Canaletto painted for Joseph Smith. The series gives an almost complete picture of the entire length of the Grand Canal, and was painted in stages over a period of about ten years.

Map showing the points on the Grand Canal that the paintings depict

The locations of the paintings in the Grand Canal series ©

Joseph Smith displayed these paintings in his palazzo on the Grand Canal, where he was regularly visited by patrons and Grand Tourists, many of whom commissioned their own versions. Smith’s exact arrangement of the paintings is not known, but it may have begun with the Canale di Santa Chiara (no. 1) and ended with the mouth of the Grand Canal (no. 12). Smith had the set reproduced in etchings by Antonio Visentini and published them in the Prospectus in 1735, thereby making knowledge of Canaletto’s works much more accessible.

Through constant observation Canaletto captured moments of daily life and the picturesque beauty of his native city, imaginatively transforming them from prosaic transcriptions of reality into works of art.